The SECOND WORLD WAR January 1941

The SECOND WORLD WAR January 1941

(Britain)

On the 1st January 1941 the account of the previous night’s bombing of London revealed that the Old Bailey, the Guildhall and eight Christopher Wren churches were either destroyed or badly damaged.

Amy Johnson CBE was an Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA) pilot, who vanished on the 5th January 1941 whilst flying and delivering an Airspeed Oxford aircraft from Prestwick via Blackpool to RAF Kidlington near Oxford. The job of the ATA pilots was to transport Royal Air Force aircraft around the country. Flying in adverse weather conditions she went off course and reputedly ran out of fuel and her aircraft crashed into the Thames Estuary near Herne Bay. Reports that she bailed out have been unconfirmed as her body has never been found.

The City of London continued to be a target for German bombing raids and on the 11th January 1941 a bomb landed near the Bank of England.  The bomb hit the road intersection at the “Bank” underground station, where the entrance was and still is located. When the bomb exploded, the booking hall was destroyed and subsequently the blast was found to have travelled down the escalators and along the corridors, killing people in its path as well as on the deep underground platforms. The final death toll was believed to be fifty one. The army found it necessary to build a temporary “Bailey Bridge” across the crater as the damage was extensive.                                             

The Royal Dockyard (His Majesty’s Naval Base) HMNB Devonport in Plymouth was subjected to a heavy Luftwaffe raid on 13th January 1941. This raid was one of many carried out to attempt to keep British naval vessels stranded in their docks thereby assisting in the Nazi German navy in their efforts to destroy convoys during the Battle of the Atlantic.

Between the 2nd and 8th January 1941 the Italian held-small harbour town of Bardia, located on the northern shore of Libya near the Egyptian border in the Mediterranean, was bombed by British aircraft and bombarded by naval vessels off shore. The Australian 16th Infantry Brigade attacked Bardia at dawn of the 5th January 1941, where the defences were known to be weakest.  Sappers blew gaps in the barbed wire defences allowing the infantry and tanks of the Australian 7th Royal Tank Regiment to enter the fortress and capture all their objectives and taking 8,000 Italian prisoners. This victory enabled Allied forces to continue their advance into Libya. Following the capture of Bardia the Australians advanced to positions on the outskirts of Tobruk on the 7th January 1941. After nearly a fortnight of preparations for Operation Compass, the assault on Tobruk, was ready. Allied bombers and shells from the Mediterranean fleet were aimed at the town before the Australians attacked on the 21st January 1941. Tobruk was captured on the 22nd January 1941 despite some fierce Italian counter-attacks. Approximately 20,000 prisoners were taken along with 208 field guns and 200 trucks.

The Avro Lancaster bomber took to the air for its first flight from Woodford, Manchester on the 9th January 941. It was a four engine heavy bomber and Avro’s chief designer Roy Chadwick, developed the airframe from the Avro Manchester. The four engines which powered the Lancaster were the tried and tested Rolls-Royce Merlin engine.  The Manchester bomber was a two engine aircraft incorporating the powerful Rolls Royce Vulture engines which proved to be unreliable. The Lancaster bomber became the principle aircraft of Bomber Command and entered service in 1942.

The BBC’s Radio Belgique transmitted to Nazi-0ccupied Belgium from London. On the 14th January 1941 the former Belgian cabinet minister, Victor de Lavelage became the announcer on Radio Belgique and began his “V for Victory” campaign. He was responsible for creating one of the stations notable slogans, “We will get them, the Bosches”. Radio Belgique was established in London, with the cooperation of the exiled Belgian government, on the 28th September 1940. The programmes were broadcasted in French and Dutch for only fifteen minutes each evening, alternating the languages daily.  The German reaction was to try to jam the signal to enable them to control the airwaves and broadcast their own radio shows for their own propaganda information.

During the Siege of Malta, on the 18th January 1941, the first German Luftwaffe Stuka dive bomber raid attacked Malta for the third consecutive day, destroying six aircraft and damaging many more at Luqa and Hal Fair airfields. The bombs damaged the capital city, Valletta, destroying 200 buildings and killing 50 people. The island was a British colony and served as a strategically important base in the Mediterranean. Following the Italian loss of their fleet as they were anchored at Taranto in November 1940, Italy and Germany chose air power to attack and besiege Malta. The Royal Air Force (RAF) had limited aircraft on the island but with the assistance of the Royal Navy they were opposing the air forces and navies of Italy and Germany for control of the island of Malta. The British aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious had received bomb damage whilst heading for Malta (See Germany 10th January 1941), and was in the Grand Harbour when it was hit by the bombs and received further damage. Illustrious departed Malta on the 23rd January 1941 for Alexandria in Egypt for major repairs after completing temporary repairs in Malta. She was escorted by destroyers HMS Jervis, HMS Juna, HMS Janus and HMS Greyhound.

In East Africa on the 16th January 1941 British forces began their first counter-offensive on Italian held Eritrea.  On the 19th January 1941 Indian Divisions of the Sudan Defence Force launched an attack on the Italians in Eritrea, Somaliland and Ethiopia taking immediately the town of Kassala on the Sudan –Eritrea border. On the 31st January 1941 the Indian troops outflanked and captured Agordat in Eritrea taking 1,000 Italian prisoners and capturing 43 field guns.  The exiled Emperor of Ethiopia Haile Selassie re-entered his country behind the advancing British and Commonwealth troops.

 In North Africa on the 30th January 1941 British forces took Darnah in Libya, which is 100 miles along the coast west of Tobruk.                                                                                                 

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(Germany)

The Luftwaffe bombed Dublin on the morning of the 2nd January 1941 and again on the following morning of the 3rd January 1941. Little damage was done and there were some casualties but there was not any loss of life. It is possible the German aircraft were off course as the independent state of Ireland, or Eire, had declared neutrality since the beginning of the Second World War. However, Northern Ireland was at war with Germany as they are part of the United Kingdom.                

On the 9th January 1941 German Dictator Adolf Hitler held a conference with his generals regarding his plans for the attack on the Soviet Union. He was hoping to convince the Japanese to attack the United States after witnessing the German success in Russia. The idea being that America would be too pre-occupied with war in the Far East and would not get involved with a European War. He was wrong on all counts, the Soviet Union was not defeated and the Americans did get involved in the European War.

German Luftwaffe Stuka dive bombers damaged British aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious which was heading for Malta on the 10th January 1941. This was the first of two attacks on Illustrious. The second attack occurred when Illustrious was docked at theGrand Harbour of Valletta in Malta (See Britain 18TH January 1941).  Illustrious received temporary repairs in Malta before departing for Egypt on the 23rd January 1941. The Luftwaffe at the time held control in the Mediterranean.

On the 10th January 1941 Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union signed the German-Soviet Border and Commercial Agreement. This agreement settled the border disputes and ensured the continuation of raw materials and war machines which had begun with the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of 1939. The raw materials imported from the Soviet Union by the Germans between 1939 and 1941 played a major role in supporting the German war effort against the Soviet Union after the German invasion in June 1941.     

On the 19th January 1941 Hitler met with Italian Dictator Benito Mussolini at Hitler’s home, the Berghof, in the Bavarian Alps near Berchtesgaden. In the two day conference Hitler agreed to provide aid for the Italians in North Africa but would not assist on the Greco-Albanian front.

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(Italy)

During the Greco-Italian War in Southern Albania the strategically important Kilsyra Pass was captured by the Greek forces on the 11th January 1941. In October 1940 Italy held the Greco-Albanian border and launched a major offensive against Greece. The Italian forces were repelled by the Greeks who launched their major counter-offensive and penetrated deep into Italian held Albanian territory. On the 6th June1941 the Greeks advanced and launched another major offensive, finally capturing Klisura Pass on the 11th January 1941.

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(Other Theatres)

In Belgium on the 5th January 1941, the leader of the Wallonia’s fascist party leader Léon Degrelle gave a speech in the German-occupied city of Liege announcing support of the Rexist Party for German Nazism. The Belgian Rexist Party was a far right wing Catholic nationalist political party which was founded in 1935. It was initially modelled on Italian Fascism and later grew closer to German Nazism

In Japan on the 7th January 1941, Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto presented to the Minister of the Navy his proposals for a war against the United States. Yamamoto proposed a crippling first strike against American forces and suggested an air attack on the U.S. fleet at Pearl Harbour not too dis-similar to the British ait attack against the Italian fleet in Taranto during November 1940.

In China on the 7th January 1941 the New Forth Army incident occurred when 80,000 Nationalist Chinese attacked the Chinese Communists in Maolin. The attack ended when the two factions co-operated in the common agreement whereby they would fight the Japanese instead of each other.

In America on the 10th January 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Lend-Lease programme was brought before the United States Congress for consideration, to aid Great Britain in its war against Germany, Roosevelt devised the programme giving the chief executive the power to deal with any military source to secure the defence of the United States.  Congress authorised the programme on the 11th March 1941. British morale was bolstered by this programme knowing they were not alone in their struggle against Germany. On the 23rd January 1941, Charles A. Lindberg testified before the U.S. Congress and recommended the United States negotiate a neutrality pact with Germany’s Adolf Hitler. Lindberg was a national hero following his nonstop flight across the Atlantic in 1927. In the early 1930s Lindberg and his wife moved to Europe and by the mid-1930s became aware of Germany’s advances in aviation. He also became enamoured by the German national revitalisation. In recognition of his services to aviation he was decorated with the “Service Cross of the Order of the German Eagle” by Hitler’s government.  Upon returning to the United States he agitated for neutrality with Germany in opposition to the Lend-Lease policy.         

During the Franco-Thai War, the Battle of Ko Chang ended on the 17th January 1941 with a decisive victory for the naval forces of Vichy France. The French land forces were ill-equipped to deal with the larger Thai army and the war was not proceeding well for the French. The French Governor General of Indochina and the Naval Forces Commander-Chief, Jean Decoux decided victory could be achieved by a naval attack against Thailand’s fleet. The subsequent Battle of Ko Chang was a tactical victory for the French. Two torpedo boats were sunk and a coastal defence ship was disabled, while the French suffered minor casualties. The Japanese intervened, fearing the war would turn in France’s favour, by proposing an armistice be signed. A Japanese-sponsored “Conference for the Cessation of Hostilities” was held in Saigon and on the 28th January 1941 a peace treaty was signed in Tokyo.

In the Soviet Union on the 17th January 1941, politician and diplomat Vyacheslav Molotov met the German Ambassador Friedrich-Werner Schulenburg in Moscow. Molotov asked Schulenburg why, seven days after signing the German-Soviet Border and Commercial Agreement, they had not received an answer that the Soviet Union join the Axis Tripartite Pact. The proposal had been submitted on the 25th November 1940 and Schulenburg’s reply was that Germany needed to discuss the arrangement with Italy and Japan.                                                                                      

In Romania on the 21st January 1941 reports were emerging that Romanian fascists (“Iron Guards”) were executing Jews in Bucharest. The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of August 1939 had given large portions of Romania to the Soviet Union, Hungary and Bulgaria. The Romanian people were frustrated so much territory had been conceded without a war. The Iron Guard had been invited into the government in 1940 but the government’s position was weakened when the fascist Iron Guard revolted. The army suppressed the revolt but the Iron Guard blamed the Jewish population who was made the scapegoat and executions began.        

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